The parents of senior Major Parsons had given him the gift of family travel when he was younger – but he didn’t always enjoy it. He says he often just wanted to go home when his parents took him to other countries when he was in elementary school. Things began to change when he took his first trip with Rustic Pathways when he was 14.
Parsons traveled to the Dominican Republic with his cousin. His parents picked that program because it was shorter and closer to home. Parsons loved it so much, he wanted to travel again. He selected the second trip, opting to go farther and longer on a journey to Fiji where he said local villagers treated the students like kings and queens.
“It definitely helped my overall perspective of life and taught me how it’s important to not take things for granted,” Parsons said. “In Fiji I stayed with a family in a village, and they gave me their mattress and all their comforts while they slept on the floor. It gave me a lot more understanding about different cultures, and that changes your mindset about life.”
After the Fiji trip, Parsons traveled to Peru in the summer of 2021 in the Andes to Amazon program where he practiced his Spanish and was among a small number of students who managed to hike to the top of Ausangate Mountain, which he says was the hardest hike in his life. Now he joins the numerous Rustic alumni who after several trips have felt prepared to tackle college and careers.
Here are some of the reasons why traveling abroad has given alumni a leg up as they’ve moved into adulthood:
Finding Our Similarities
During their trips, many students quickly discover they have more similarities with local villagers they encounter than differences – that the human needs for connection and joy cross all international boundary lines. Going to different countries enables this idea to sink in.
Rustic’s Morocco Country Manager Chaima Ait El Mekki has certainly seen this phenomenon unfold during her years directing programs. She says one of her most memorable moments happened when a teen came to her in tears.
He had played soccer with local children during his trip, and during the game, he said he realized he had been closed-minded. He said the children had names that he had associated with terrorism, so he was surprised when he found the local children “are exactly like me” – having fun and running around.
“This shows why we need more people to travel,” Ait El Mekki said. “Mind shifts happen on programs.”
Experiencing Different Cultures
Once the similarities are realized and connections are made, it is easier to enjoy the cultural aspects of various communities in different nations.
In Morocco, students may learn about the importance of camels and enjoy getting hennas. In the Dominican Republic, they may watch a merengue or bachata dance. In Peru, they may learn about the Inca’s weaving of textiles.
Each nation and region has something new and different for students to experience and learn.
Along the way, there’s no doubt it can be scary to dive into an unknown adventure – both for teens and for their parents. On an international trip, teens need to learn to keep track of their belongings, advocate for their needs, communicate with people who may not speak their language and so much more.
The more practice the better, and so it shouldn’t be surprising many of Rustic’s most accomplished alumni took multiple international trips as teens. Each trip provides new opportunities to build confidence, independently handle common tasks, and learn to deal with unexpected problems.
This can increase a student’s confidence in his or her ability to make a difference. This happens during the service projects but also when students see how simple, kind gestures can be helpful when students have the confidence to step up.
DeAndra Forde found that during her second trip with Rustic. The luggage of another student on the journey to the Dominican Republic was lost. Forde offered to help by giving Molly Halberg some clothes. That simple gesture in 2014 led to a strong friendship that endures today.
Making More Connections and Friends
Speaking of friendships, there is no doubt that the more teens travel, the more connections they make. There are innumerable Rustic alumni stories about students who make strong connections with both the people they meet in the countries they visit and with their fellow student travelers.
Alumnus Griffin Tidstrom is among them. He traveled with Rustic on five different trips. Previously he had attended a small Pre-K – 8th grade school and said that going on his trips taught him how to talk to people outside his small circle and make new friends. Now he is attending the University of Kansas and majoring in marketing since he wants a career that will involve many interactions with other people.
Like Tidstrom, Gabrielle Antolovic also made numerous connections during her four trips with Rustic. She has made a worldwide network of friends that she still utilizes today as she works her way through law school.
Appreciating the Simple Things
During Rustic trips, many service projects focus on helping communities with basic needs, such as the access to safe water. The fact that innumerable villages around the world do not have this infrastructure is eye-opening to many young travelers.
Once this reality sinks in, travelers often express how much more they appreciate the basic amenities and privileges that they have at home. They also appreciate how hard villagers will work to make their communities a better place.
Alumna Nuria Sainz Mañas has taken these lessons to heart. She has dedicated much of her life to service after traveling with Rustic to Costa Rica and Thailand in 2013 and 2014. She says the Come With Nothing, Go Home Rich program has been particularly impactful, and she is now working on her Master’s Degree in Humanitarian Operations in Emergencies at the Social Change School based in Spain and Italy.
Having Great Stories & Great Memories
In the end, teens may not remember what they ate for dinner or that textbook history lesson that’s no longer on the test. But who doesn’t remember their travels and their adventures?
Giving teens travel opportunities is an absolute gift. The chance to see different parts of the world and how different people live is eye-opening and memorable. It’s not hard to get young travelers to share their stories. Getting them out of their bubble may begin on their first international trip. It will keep expanding after that.
To see how that has worked with many alumni, visit Rustic’s alumni stories page. As you scroll down, you will see many young adults who took two, three, or more trips with Rustic when they were younger. Their stories showcase how strong these trips have impacted them then and still do now.
Ready to explore more? Visit our program page and see what adventures await for students in 2022.